I first learned about Robert Baldwin in grade 7, and I can't say that particular bit of junior high history moved me much. I was far more interested in the war of 1812 at the time (because I was a boy and because I liked military history, not history). So I can't say I thought much about it, and I'm sure most other students like me weren't captivated either. In fact, the only reason it was interesting to me was that it just so happened that his descendant was dating my mother. So there was a surreal aspect to it, but that was all.
I was given this book by that very descendant (not my step-father) and I must say I was sceptical. Like so many other Canadians, I have a self-deprecating view of our past. To wit, 'the 1837 rebellion in York inolved a bunch of incompetents marching down Yonge Street and running away when they got shot at.' That's how I portray one of the foundational moments in Ontario history. I read the book because my step-father gave it to me, and for no other reason.
Imagine my surprise then, when confronted with Saul's (or is it Raulston Saul?) contention that not only have we Canadians undervalued the contributions of Lafontaine and Baldwin, but the entire world has. Raulston Saul (or is it Saul?) makes perhaps a too bold claim that Canada was the leading country in democratizing political processes in the 19th century. This is entirely unfamiliar to most Canadians who are used to believing that the Americans did indeed fight for democracy, and we were given it by the British through little effort of our own.
Saul's claim is, as I said, perhaps overstated. But he tells a good story, and he does make a compelling case that Canada's pre-Confederation should not only be taken seriously by us, but studied by others. Even if I haven't had time to fact check the validity of his bold claim, I can say that it seems legitimate, at least to my bull-shit detectors. And it makes me want to read more about pre-Confederation "responsible government". Even if Raulston Saul has exaggerated the importance of the actions of Lafontaine and Baldwin, I still think he conveys a sense of importance and value to our own history that is severely lacking in school curriculum. And the idea that Canada was leading the way in the democratic movements of the 19th century is something that I will have to investigate further. If true, it should cause me to reevaulate much I have thought about our place in world history.
(Incidentally, if true, I liken our marginalization to the marginalizing of Iceland's parliamentary history, and to the marginalizing of the Dutch liberal tradition, which has gone on in British political philosophy merely because the Icelanders and Dutch aren't British, nor were they involved in any history-changing revolutions like the French.)